By Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2020

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) - The Vancouver Public Schools Board of Directors on Tuesday unanimously voted to stop using the chieftain name and mascot at Columbia River High School and Minnehaha Elementary School.

Board members last month expressed their desire to halt the use of the image of a Native American chief in a feathered headdress, The Columbian reported. Local tribal leaders urged the school board to stop using the image, and more than 1,700 people signed a petition this summer opposing its continued use.

The mascot has been a source of controversy for decades and came back under the spotlight recently by renewed national conversations about racial justice. The Washington State Board of Education adopted a resolution in 1993 for districts to reevaluate use of Native American imagery in mascots, reaffirming that position in 2012.

In 1994 and again in 2019, students voted to keep the image.

Anastasia McAllister, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and graduate of Columbia River High School, said the mascot does not honor her community or the Native presence in the lower Columbia River.

Some alumni and former school staff protested the resolution, urging the district to preserve the chieftain mascot. A counter-petition drew more than 800 signatures.

Others suggested retiring the mascot would erase Native American history in the region. Philip Harju, the newly sworn-in chair of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, rebuked that. He called on the district to invest in curriculum that includes the history of local tribes.

School board president Wendy Smith acknowledged the anger and disappointment some feel at replacing the chieftain. However, she said it’s unacceptable for the district to keep a mascot that has and continues to harm students.

“If some students, any students, feel alienated from their school community, then it is not the right mascot for their school,” Smith said.

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